By Cathy Harasta
The Texas Catholic
ROCKWALL— A striking statue of St. John Paul II stands near a front window of Claudette and Don Johnson’s home on the shores of Lake Ray Hubbard.
They threw a party to celebrate the late pontiff’s canonization last spring, with a special ethnic menu that honored the Polish heritage shared by St. John Paul II and Claudette.
In addition to abiding love, Claudette and Don said that keeping the church central, their family traditions joyful and teamwork a mainstay helps them nurture their 60-year marriage.
“The church has been a big part of our life and everything we did,” said Claudette, a founding member of Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Rockwall. “Everything we did socially was with the church. It was wonderful. The Catholic community is so important.”
On Sept. 6, Claudette and Don, who have three sons, will attend the Diocesan Silver and Gold Anniversary Mass for couples married for 25 years, 50 years and 50-plus years. Families will join the anniversary couples for the Mass at the Cathedral Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
“I think faith is the No. 1 thing in Don and Claudette’s marriage,” said their daughter-in-law Mary Johnson, who is married to their son Blair, of Royse City. “Their home is always very welcoming. They’re very big on volunteerism and helping others.
“They really stick to their values and hold true to how the Catholic Church defines marriage.”
Their marriage began on May 8, 1954, in their native Michigan and made its way through several northeastern states before the family settled in Rockwall in the mid-1970s.
They first attended St. Pius X Catholic Church before Rockwall had a parish. Claudette said that she was thrilled when Msgr.Thomas Weinzapfel, the longtime pastor of St. Pius X, started the mission in Rockwall that became Our Lady of the Lake Parish.
The first Mass was celebrated in the old Rockwall High School’s cafeteria in 1974.
Claudette, who recently was honored with a Bishop’s Award for Service to the Church medal, said she cherishes the days of serving as secretary at Our Lady of the Lake.
“She was a leader all the way and a wonderful, God-fearing person,” Msgr.Weinzapfel said. “They’re very dynamic people. They’ve been so involved with the church. They had a wonderful home life. They worked out whatever problems came along. There was no limit to their giving and their hospitality.”
Claudette, who grew up in a large Polish Catholic family in Muskegon on Lake Michigan, said that the marriage thrives because a vow is a sacred and serious pledge.
“You take a vow when you get married and you’ve got to make it work,” she said. “Sometimes, you just want to scream and run away, but you say, ‘I’m going to make this work.’
“There’s no turning back.”
They got married 18 months after they met at a dance in their hometown, where they attended rival high schools.
Don, who owned a lighting fixtures company before he retired in 2001, said that his Dutch Protestant family initially regarded his Catholic girlfriend with skepticism.
“After they met Claudette, they just loved her,” said Don, who since has entered the Catholic faith. “I don’t know that we do anything special, but we made a pact that we would make all major decisions together.”
Mary Johnson said that her husband’s parents serve as role models for a harmonious and lasting marriage.
Their values have anchored their decisions, she said.
“One is always caring for the other,” said Mary, whose two late uncles were priests in the Buffalo, N.Y., area. “Their personalities mesh well. They may not always agree, but they work together as a team.
“They’ve so much had each other’s back.”